The Hygenic Dog Food Co. Building, West Berkeley (late 1980's).

Emeryville and West Berkeley in the 1980's and early 1990's.

Notes accompanying the separate "Emeryville and West Berkeley in the 1980's and early 1990's" gallery. 

Emeryville is a little over one square mile of urban flatlands and landfill, wedged between Berkeley, Oakland, and the San Francisco Bay in California. Maybe 10,000 or so people live there nowadays, but it was a lot less than half that when I first saw the place in the late 1980’s. Within a year of that I was living and working in E’ville, and although I haven’t lived or worked there now for a long time, I’ve followed the place as it transformed itself from a small city with assorted bits of heavy industry, insidious pollution problems, gambling (one of the very few places in California where gambling was legal back then), and a big crime and corruption problem, into a thriving little hi-tech center with a bunch of busy malls, a couple of decent restaurants, and a lot of refurbished factories and warehouses. 

Nowadays large parts of Emeryville are indistinguishable from, say, suburban Boston or Sydney, but back then Emeryville was the sort of industrial town that still had working railroad tracks running down the middle of city streets and into the factory sidings. If you wanted to walk from the east side (say Hollis Street) to the west side (what became The Marketplace) you just walked across the main Southern Pacific railroad tracks, sometimes having to step through a stopped freight train. There was no shiny Amtrak station; there were no malls, no Ikea; there was one hotel (the Holiday Inn out on the spit), and a Trader Vic’s. There were no chain restaurants — except for the busy Denny’s down by I-80. There were very few traffic lights that I can remember (there must be dozens of them now). The Town House on Doyle was a rough old sawdust-on-the-floor kinda place where the jukebox played Country unironically and the food was, well, at least edible (we had our monthly company meetings there over a few jugs of beer). The Bavarian Village on Powell served heavy “Bavarian” food and OK beer; it was definitely not the sushi place it later became. Warehouses were (mostly) actually warehouses, but even then there was a small but active art and craft community in warehouses and industrial lofts throughout the city (it just didn't draw attention to itself, and hadn't yet reached the self-conscious Hipster stage).

Emeryville was where I first fetched up when I moved to California. It seemed a long way from London, in every sense, and I started taking photos of the place almost immediately. These are just a handful of those photos from back then; I have a lot more that I haven’t scanned yet, and that I’ll get around to adding here some time. Plus I’ll probably (one day) do a “before and after” gallery for many of the images — virtually nothing shown here looks anything like this any more, if you can see it at all.

And there was West Berkeley, sort of just up 7th Street from E'ville, the other side of Ashby. I lived on the fringes of Downtown Berkeley back then, but West Berkeley seemed like another place entirely, an industrial part of Berkeley that few outsiders seemed to know much about. I explored and inhabited it as much as I could, but I still rue the fact that I took so few photos of a place I rode my  bicycle through almost every day on my way to E'ville. Places like the Macaulay foundry or the Hygenic Dog Food building or the PQ plant or Fantasy Records (where I "helped" record a song a million years ago) — I should have done a better job…


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